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Thursday, 15 November 2018
Page: 8323

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory) (15:06): I move:

That the Senate take note of the explanation.

On Tuesday, I gave notice and asked the Minister for Indigenous Affairs for advice provided by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to him regarding the grants to the NT Cattlemen's Association, the Amateur Fishermen's Association of the NT and the NT Seafood Council that were referred to during estimates on Friday, 26 October. I also asked for copies of grant applications by the NTCA, AFANT and NTSC for funding from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy and any correspondence or other information, including briefs and meeting and file notes from or to the Indigenous affairs minister about these grants. This morning I did receive from the minister some of those documents. I received the briefs provided to the minister by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet concerning the applications, and I thank him for that. However, I have not received the grant applications from the three organisations under the IAS, because apparently they are commercial-in-confidence documents. I await production of these documents by, as the minister has said, 21 November.

The limited documents I have received do show some interesting facts about the whole process of how these grants to non-Indigenous peak bodies were made. Let's take a moment just to go over the facts. In April this year, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs stood up at the Amateur Fishermen's Association of the NT annual general meeting and said he was giving them $100,000 to help them run detriment cases in land claims. The papers provided to me today show that he did not sign off on an IAS grant to AFANT until 21 May, and the grant was for $155,000. According to departmental advice, it was a non-competitive direct approach to AFANT, which was recommended because:

There is a clear need for the stakeholder group to be better informed on Aboriginal issues in the NT …

It goes on to say:

This has been demonstrated by recent NT media on NT land claims which has attracted negative, uninformed comment from members of the recreational fishing community.

I'm wondering why the minister was able to make a promise to AFANT at its AGM in April about a $100,000 grant when at that stage he didn't know where the money was coming from. The AFANT money hadn't even started going through the grants process at that stage.

I also note that nowhere on any of the departmental advice to the three organisations does it mention the funding being used to meet legal costs in running detriment arguments in land claims. It talks about the stakeholder groups needing to be better informed about Indigenous people, how they should be better educated about land rights and native title, and how this funding will help their members to learn more about Indigenous people. In Senate estimates on 26 October, when I asked you, Minister, about the nearly half a million dollars granted under the IAS to the peak bodies, you said the funding was for 'just the legal fees, effectively'. I'm wondering why none of this advice from the department to you, Minister, about these IAS grants refers anywhere to the provision of fees for legal advice.

The minister said that he granted $1.4 million to a non-Indigenous company, North Australian Rural Management Consultants, for accountancy services, because they happen to have some Indigenous organisations as clients. I find this is an extraordinary use of funds that are meant to improve Indigenous communities and Indigenous lives. I would like to make clear, as I wrote to all the peak bodies on 2 November, that I understand and support their efforts to resolve some of these outstanding land claims. Further, I fully support the rights of these organisations to pursue legal assistance for the associated costs of putting forward their arguments in land claim hearings. However, it is my view that using IAS funding that is meant to support Indigenous participation and culture and strengthen Indigenous organisations for this purpose is an inappropriate use of these funds. I am advised that there are alternative and more usual funding streams and access to support for legal representation in land claims through the Attorney-General.

I will continue to ask why the minister did not follow this process. I will certainly continue to seek information and ask questions about the process that the Minister for Indigenous Affairs and the coalition government have followed with the allocation of IAS grants, and I will continue to ask the minister why grants from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy are provided to non-Indigenous companies that are run by his political mates.